Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Real advice for camping with a toddler

This past weekend I had the privilege of taking my 21-month-old son camping for the first time. I'm happy to say it was a complete success. Robby slept and napped in the tent, stayed a comfortable distance away from the fire pit and was just a generally happy kid. The fresh air definitely agreed with him!

As our departure date approached, I started to worry about what we were in for. So I naturally did what all parents do nowadays -- I Googled it. I found plenty of posts about camping with a toddler, but I have to say that most of the advice was pretty useless. One common tip was, "Be cheerful." I don't know about you, but I think that's about the dumbest piece of advice you could ever give someone. Of course you should be cheerful. Having a positive attitude is helpful in life all the time -- not just when you're camping. I was looking for practical answers about camping with an almost-2-year-old, such as: Do I need to bring a pack-and-play? Will my son nap? Will he put his hand in the fire? Am I totally crazy to even try this? Since I had those questions, I figured others might as well. So below are my 15 practical tips for camping with a toddler:

1. Skip the pack-and-play. Everyone that I talked to about camping with a toddler asked me if I was going to bring a pack-and-play. My instinct told me my son would sleep in the tent with us, but because so many people mentioned the baby cage, I felt swayed. In the end the pack-and-play didn't fit in our car (it's a Honda Fit), so we skipped it. And I'm glad we did. Robby slept fine in the tent, which is just big enough for two adults and a toddler. We did get Robby a youth sleeping bag, which should last him until he's 6 or 7, but he just slept on top of it and generally flopped around during the night.

2. Pick the right location. We camped at a campground in Stowe, Vt., which is remote, but not too remote. We had access to hot-water showers, but still had plenty of privacy at our campsite. We also were in driving distance of great hiking and civilization, like family-friendly restaurants. Having the ability to be on our own in the wilderness, while still not totally roughing it was a good choice for us.
Robby stays dry in the leanto during an afternoon rain storm.

3. Plan for rain. I've been camping enough times to know that no matter how good your tent is, it will leak in the rain. So this time I wised up and opted for the campsite with a leanto, or a wooden structure with a raised floor and roof that kept us high and dry. We had a very rainy Saturday afternoon/evening and without that leanto we would have been driving home in a miserable panic. If the campsite you're staying at doesn't offer leantos (or Yurts), there are ways to set up a pretty rainproof set of tarps over your tent. Just make sure you have a boyscout with you. Also, pick a campground that has access to rainy-day activities. We took a tour of the local Ben & Jerry's factory and did a wine tasting. Robby enjoyed the former and not the latter, of course.

4. Bring just three. I hate bringing lots of toys to places. So I brought three toys, three stuffed animals and three books for Robby. That was plenty. In fact, I could probably cut the toys down to one: Bubbles. Boy did that come in handy on the rainy day. We hung out in the leanto and blew bubbles. It was great fun.

5. Introduce the tent early. One of the reasons I think Robby successfully slept in the tent is that we set it up a few days in advance and let him scope it out. By the time we got to the campsite it was old hat.

6. Rent a bike. Stowe has a wonderful bike path along the river. We were able to rent a bike with a trailer for Robby and had a merry time cruising along. It was one of the highlights of our trip. We have bikes at home, but strapping them to the car would have added extra stress. If you can afford the extra cash to rent, do it. It's one less thing to worry about.

7. Bring a hiking backpack. This one's pretty obvious. For as long as physically possible, hike with your child in a backpack/carrier. That way there's less crankiness and tired legs on the little one.

8. Bring peanut butter and jelly for lunch. It's not fancy, but if fills you up and gives you the energy to go on with your day. It also travels very well.

9. Put boots on over footed pjs at night. This way your kid's pjs don't get ruined by all the dirt.

10. Give it time. It took Robby an extra 30 minutes to settle down for nap/bed. We did our normal routine of books and songs in the tent and then it took him that extra time to actually close his eyes.

11. Bring a battery-powered sound machine. This is one thing I didn't think of, but wished I had. Campgrounds are loud! I didn't realize this pre-baby, probably because I was the loud one whooping it up at 10:30 at night. That wind down time probably would have been cut in half had we had a sound machine to drown out the din of the people around us.

12. Pancake mix in a jug. My husband and I discovered this trick on our last camping trip. Buy Bisquick Shake 'n Pour pancake mix. You add water directly to the jug, shake it up, and pour. The alternative is bringing the mix and a bowl to mix it in. That's a lot of stuff to clean. The jug is so much more convenient!

13. Wipes. Every parent know this, but wipes are amazing. I don't know how I camped without wipes before.
The family gathers around the fire.

14. Have a fire. I was so nervous about having a fire at our campsite. I assumed toddler + fire = disaster. But it wasn't a disaster at all. My son sat and stared at the fire just like my husband and I. There is just something primal about a fire that even toddlers understand.

15. Nap as a family. I don't know about you, but in my house, when it's nap time, it's time for mommy and daddy to get stuff done. But when we camped, we all napped together in the tent. It was great because we were all actually rested and happy at the same time when we woke up. As I said to my husband, "This nap was worth this entire trip."

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Things we all know

1. Women who have babies love to talk about baby carriers. “What one do you use?” “Oh, I used that one, but then I bought this other one second hand and I tried that for a while.” “What did you think?” “Well, it was okay, so then I ordered this other one, which has pockets, and a little key chain, and I liked that one, but then I went back to the original one.” In the end, everyone agrees that the Ergo is the best one to get, but we wasted 30 minutes talking about it. Again.

2. When a kid acts like a shit head, it’s usually because their parents are shit heads.

3. Can we all stop giving a crap about how others feed their babies? Give ‘em formula, give ‘em breast milk. Feed ‘em soy. Feed ‘em cow’s milk heavily laced with hormones. Whatever. It’s your choice. *Side note: Cow's milk with hormones is actually delicious!

4. Going to the doctor with a sick child is pretty useless. Here’s what will happen: Your child will scream as soon as she sees the scale. She’ll whip her head back and forth rapidly, preventing the nurse from getting the ear thermometer reading. She’ll start tearing the paper off the exam table. The doctor will take one look at the child and declare that she has a virus and there’s nothing to be done. You ask how you can avoid viruses in the future, and the doctor says good hand washing. You nod your head and wonder what toddler has ever been good at hand washing.

5. People love to say, “It’s good for kids to get sick.” Really? Who has this ever been good for? Maybe the species as a whole, yes. The species wants to see the strongest survive. But you know what’s on the other end of that little argument? For the strongest to survive some have to die. That’s pretty awful isn’t it? So let’s not say that anymore. Let’s hope for children to stay healthy.

6. Mommy discussion boards are full of complete and total idiots. Reading them makes you depressed about the human race, just like watching most reality television, cable news and The Today Show.

7. Nothing you do has anything to do with how your child does or does not sleep. Stuff him full of solid foods at 8 weeks. It won’t make a difference. Pump him full of iron-fortified formula. Get the sound machine. Co-sleep. Cry-it-out. Baby whisper. Do all of it, all the time, consistently and perfectly. None of it will make a darn bit of difference. Children sleep when they want to sleep. Just try to stay out of their way when they are ready. And stop blaming yourself. And throw away those awful books.

8. Speaking of sleep, some people are way too uptight about naps. You know, those people who run their lives and consequently the lives of anyone who happens to intersect with them around their precious bundle’s nap schedule. Lighten up. Let a nap run late. Put the kid down early. Be flexible. And stop talking about it all the time. No one cares.

9. If you don’t trust your husband to watch your child because he texts all the time, don’t tell anyone. Or get a divorce. Or maybe go back in time and don’t have the child to begin with.

10. The phrase “screen time” is obnoxious. And TV won’t kill your baby.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ruminations on pregnany and delivery

This is a pretty important blog post because it's my first since giving birth to my son, Robert James (man that still sounds weird). It's been more than two weeks and I'm not sure it's completely sunk in that this kid is mine and that he's going to be around me like all the time, for like, forever. Well, that may be an overstatement. But you know what I mean.

In any case, bringing Robby into this world has been an amazing, scarey, painful, joyous experience. Through the nine months (41 weeks and two days, but who's counting) until today, his 19th as an ex-utero being, I've learned a lot. Here are some of the highlights:

Our health care system stinks. I've written about this before, but here it is again in a nutshell: Insurance companies have painted doctors into a corner so that they are forced to play medical defense as opposed to really caring for patients. The result is that most of us patients are left with competent, but less than compassionate care. What a bummer.

Too much of having a baby is political. Do you use a pacifier or not? Do you have your son circumcised or not? Do you breastfeed or not? Every professional involved with helping you have a baby clearly has an opinion on these topics, but they've been brow-beaten by the PC club so much that they feel obligated to play it completely neutral, giving you the pros and cons of every little decision. The result is that no one with a degree experience in childbirth actually tells you their honest advice. They give you both sides of every debate and allow you, the one with absolutely no experience, to make ill informed decisions. I wish we could live in a world where a doctor or a nurse could just say, "In my opinion, you should do X, and this is why..." Wouldn't that be nice?

No matter how prepared you are for delivery, you'll never be prepared. I'd like to think I had some sense of what I was in for, but boy was I wrong. And my guess is that every delivery is so different that it's virtually impossible to be prepared for what faces you once the labor process begins. My labor came on a lot faster than I expected. And that delivery playlist that I slaved over creating? Well, it never got used. The only thing you can count on is that the baby will come out, one way or another.

Nurses rock. I was blown away by the nurses at Windham Hospital. I wish I could have visited them once a month for my prenatal checkups rather than my doctor's office. They actually took the time to educate me and my husband about this new life form that was now our responsibility. The labor and delivery nurse who coached me through active labor was amazing. I don't know how she does that job day in and day out. It's like going to war every day. Truly incredible. The doctor arrived for the last two pushes and got to collect her fat paycheck without even breaking sweat. Meanwhile the nurse coached me through delivery like a pro and stuck around to help me afterward.

Babies smell good. I could sniff my son's head all day long.

iPhones make 4 a.m. feedings bearable. I don't know how parents of newborns survived pre-iPhones. I have an app that tells me when to feed my son and I can keep myself entertained (as long as my eyes are open) at all hours of the day while I'm nursing. God bless the iPhone.

Hormones are crazy. I have never felt the level of emotion that I felt in the days following the birth of my son. It was pretty wild. I've since come back down to earth, but boy, hormones sure are powerful.

I have the world's greatest husband and my son has the world's greatest dad. All throughout my pregnancy I was struck by how special it was to share the experience with my husband, Bobby. But I wasn't prepared for the joy I felt in caring for our newborn son as a couple. I'm lucky to have someone like Bobby to be by my side through this journey and Robby's lucky to have him for a dad.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An impressive lack of will power

I heard a story on NPR’s “On Point” about the science of willpower. Interestingly, I heard it while I was driving home from Buell’s Orchard in Eastford with a half peck each of honey crisp apples and peaches in my back seat. In the front seat next to me was the opened carton of apple cider doughnuts. I would have let out a grown of dismay over my own lack of willpower, but I had a delicious sugary piece of baked goodness shoved in my gob. And despite my efforts to portion out the doughnuts, I managed to polish off all eight (well, seven - I let Bobby eat one) before the sun went down.

The premise of the NPR show was that willpower and self control are important traits that help people succeed in life. In theory it makes perfect sense. People who act irrationally or with no regard for the future are likely to get themselves into trouble. People who can exert a little self control are more likely to be level headed and make sacrifices in the near term for the promise of spoils in the long term.

And I’d put myself in the category of having great willpower. As long as a box of cider doughnuts aren’t within reach.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A trip to the country

Yee haw! Here are the sights and sounds of the Woodstock Fair:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Worst delivery room playlist ever

So NPR did a story (don't ask me why) on delivery room playlists. Shockingly the song, "Push it" of Salt-n-Pepa (yes, that's Pepa) fame made the cut.

Of course, as everything with pregnancy, this story immediately made me think, "Oh, crap. Here's another thing I need to worry about. I don't have a playlist. Do I need a playlist?" Then, I thought, "What kind of moron would want 'Push it' played while they were giving birth? That's just gross."

So here's my take on the top 10 worst songs for the delivery room ever:
1. Push it, Salt & Pepa
2. Waterfalls, TLC
3. One, Metallica
4. I'll make love to you, Boyz II Men
5. Anything by Barry White
6. That Dawson's Creek song by Paula Cole
7. Bridge over troubled water, Simon & Garfunkel
8. Janie's got a gun, Aerosmith
9. Jeremy, Pearl Jam
10. Mother, Danzig

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My screed on the health care system

I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time in doctors' offices lately. Luckily, it’s for a good reason, but my monthly visits to the OBGYN to get my blood pressure checked and weight documented has brought to the foreground my seething distaste for the health care system. So here’s my rant about it:

Why do doctors' offices refuse to act like normal businesses? Why is it okay for a doctor’s office to say, “Sorry. You can’t call us between noon and 1. That’s our lunch break.” What other business does that? None. Because any business that did that would be closed after a week when their customers stopped showing up and paying money.

And why do they all have to take lunch together anyway? Can’t one person cover the phones while the rest go eat? Aren’t they all getting free meals from pharmaceutical reps anyway? It’s not that hard to have a staggered lunch schedule people. Give me 15 minutes and I’ll have it all plotted out.

But the lunch break isn’t the only thing that gets on my nerves. There’s the whole appointment scheduling thing. I have yet to find a doctor or dentist’s office that actually offers reasonable hours. God forbid anyone with letters after their name work past 4:15 or before 9 a.m. Why is it that offices that treat our pets have better hours than offices that treat humans?

Oh and don’t get me started about doctors cancelling appointments. In my line of work if I called someone five minutes before an appointment to cancel it, I’d be in big trouble. If I did it more than once, I’d likely be out of a job. But for some reason, doctors pull that charming maneuver all the time. And they don’t have the nerve to call you themselves. No, sir. They make their dim-witted front desk person call you and do their bidding. And then they offer you the least convenient time to reschedule.

I ask all these questions even though I know the answer. The problem with doctors’ offices is that they are built around serving the insurance companies and the bureaucracy of the system and the needs of the doctors/staff. They aren’t built around the patient.

I’ve written about health care and I’ve read enough hospital mission statements to know that they all claim to be “delivering patient-centered health care.” But in reality there’s nothing patient-centered about the majority of our health care system.

And I really think this feeds into our society’s general avoidance of preventative health care. I am loathe to make a routine physical appointment because it’s such a giant hassle, even though I have health insurance. I bet there are plenty of people just like me. And that’s bad. Because I get intellectually that annual physicals are where you find problems when they are small and before they get big. But emotionally I can’t get over the hurdle that I’m going to have to settle for a 1:15 appointment on a Tuesday when I have a big project at work and then I’ll have to thumb through a six-month-old issue of Car & Driver in an uncomfortable waiting-room chair for 30 minutes and then sit in the boring exam room just to get five minutes with a nurse practitioner who has the bedside manner of a household mop.

What’s the solution? First, doctors offices need to start behaving like businesses. And to get them to do that, I think you have to rework how doctors are paid. The whole insurance/Medicaid/Medicare system really incentivizes doctors to put their focus in the wrong direction – away from patients – and towards paperwork and red tape. In some ways you can’t blame them. The system grew into an angry beast and it’s hard to fight it. But it’s time to take our health care system back. And that process starts with the patients and the docs.